ESPN.com had a short, but somewhat insightful interview with Pitt defensive coordinator Josh Conklin. Conklin didn't give away any trade secrets obviously, but was pretty blunt on what the Panthers will do on defense.
First? You can look for Pitt's cornerbacks to be up on the line of scrimmage ... like, all the time:
We’re going to play on the line of scrimmage 95 percent of the time with the corners, so you better be able to bring it and bring it every single day -- in practice, in conditioning, watching film.
That's a breath of fresh air for me personally, and playing off of the receivers was something I had a difficult time grasping. Against more talented wide receivers? To start, sure. But if Pitt was repeatedly giving up yardage, as was the case in the infamous ACC opener against Florida State, it made little sense to roll the same strategy out there play after play.
We don't yet know if Pitt's corners can manage to play that style but Conklin's focal point seemed to be in instilling the attitude the guys need first. If nothing else, look for aggressive corner play.
Part of their success will be dependent upon the defensive line. So how much will Pitt (one of the weakest teams last year in terms of sacks) blitz?
We’ll probably be base 65 to 70 percent of the time and bring pressure the other 30 percent of the time, but ideally -- you go back and I think about where the roots of this defense, we always talk about the Miami days, the 4-3, we want guys to attack on the edges, our defensive linemen to attack and penetrate and get up the field and cause chaos.
The key here isn't so much the blitzing, it's getting pressure when they don't blitz. You can't bring the house on every play - especially against teams with talented wide receivers. But if your front four can force pressure, that can lead to turnovers ... another thing Conklin hit on:
The way we play each position group, we want to operate on our terms at all times, force the pressure on the offense, not sit back and read and react but take the action to them. That in itself will create opportunities to get takeaways if the guys will buy into that system and style of play.
The turnovers thing is really one of Conklin's biggest selling points as FIU had 33 (5th in the nation) last year. A few more turnovers could make all the difference in winning six games vs. eight or nine. If you're not buying that, consider this: Pitt either tied their opponent or had one more turnover in five of their six regular season losses. Four of those games were decided by five points or less. Safe to say, forcing a few more turnovers could have easily resulted in a few more wins.
We'll see how all of this shakes out, but if nothing else, you can look for a unit that is going to be working to be disruptive and, contrary to what we saw under Matt House, a really aggressive style of play.